Renovation recommended for Westside Elementary

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, December 17, 2019

By Diana McFarland


Westside Elementary School is a good candidate for renovation, according to an evaluation conducted by Alpha Corporation. 

When it came to price, however, there was push-back from Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty. 

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The evaluation, presented Thursday during a joint meeting between the Supervisors and School Board, had indicated it would cost $26 million to renovate Westside or $41.4 million to build a new school. 

“When I see what happens to the cost of construction and materials when government is involved, the prices go out-of-the-world and I see it as gouging our taxpayers,” said McCarty to Brian Camden, president of Alpha Corporation. 

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In a later interview, McCarty said he’s not opposed to contractors making a living, “but I have a problem with them making a killing on the backs of our citizens.” 

During his presentation, Camden had warned that school construction costs are “going up dramatically,” and said that the lack of qualified labor is almost at an “epidemic” level. Camden said this outlook was based on consultations with three general contractors and three other school divisions. 

Camden gave an example of an elementary school in Henrico County that had received base bids from two companies at $25 and $27 million for an addition, renovation and other improvements. Other examples were also provided, all in the $300-plus per square foot range. 

When it came to the cost, “We were horrified,” said McCarty Friday. 

The two Boards have also decided to build a new Hardy Elementary and requests for proposals are being issued. 

Recently, the newly formed Capital Improvement Committee had discussed raising the real estate tax rate by five-cents to cover the costs associated with the two schools. 

Westside Elementary School is the oldest of the district’s nine schools, with a portion of the existing facility built in 1929. 

Alpha Corporation’s study, based upon a visual inspection only, found no major structural, mechanical, electrical, security or safety issues. 

Howard Collins, president of Waller, Todd and Sadler architects, said whether Westside was renovated or a new facility is built, the plan would be to construct a school that could accommodate 930 students in grades 5-7. The school currently has grades 4-6 with about 790 students and a capacity of 849 for the 2019-20 school year. 

Renovation option

If the county opts to renovate, Collins provided a long list of improvements, to include additional open spaces, but with the students being under one roof. Currently, there are wings that can only be accessed by going outdoors, and Collins said the new renovated design would eliminate the multiple exterior doors, create a continuous indoor circulation pattern and close up the courtyards.

“The (current) deep courtyards are hiding places, dangerous,” he said. 

Renovations would also include the bathroom, the kitchen and serving line, a new roof and fire suppression. 

Collins also recommended making the front entrance more distinctive and visible and adding a secure main entrance vestibule for added security. 

That is being done nationally and is highly recommended, he said. 

If renovated, it would be expandable and flexible as needs change in the future, according to the presentation. 

The bus, car and truck parking lots would be separated to improve vehicle circulation, which is currently confusing, said Collins. 

When completed it would look like new construction from the street, he added. 

New construction

The prototype chosen for a new construction example was Great Bridge Primary School in Chesapeake. It has two-stories and can accommodate 930 students, but does not include an auditorium. 

Most elementary schools do not have an auditorium. Westside has one because it was once a high school, said Collins. The plan would include separate car, bus and truck areas, will consolidate school administration parking and the building can be expanded, said Collins. 

Construction strategies

Camden did not recommend phased construction while the school was occupied. The most economical option is to build a new school on the existing site using a prototype design, he said. Building Westside and Hardy at the same time does not save money, with any savings estimated at less than one percent, he said. 

Camden said a new school would last more than 80 years compared to 35 years for a renovation. 

The Supervisors and School Board decided to reconvene in January to further discuss Westside.